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John’s Horror Corner: As Above, So Below (2014), an Indiana Jones adventure movie spliced with a found footage dark supernatural horror.

August 17, 2022

MY CALL:  An adventure-horror movie? Yes please! While higher budget among its subgenre, this is definitely one of the better found-footage horrors on the market in my opinion, but more for its style, genre-crossing and concepts than its horror filmy-ness.  MORE MOVIES LIKE As Above, So Below: For more archeology in horror, consider Dolly Dearest (1991), The Lair of the White Worm (1988), Inseminoid (1982), and then the Egyptian archaeology fare of Manhattan Baby (1982), Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990) and The Pyramid (2014) . Also consider The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), which swaps an archaeologist for an anthropologist. The Deep House (2021), The Cave (2005) and The Descent (2005) also spring to mind for obvious exploratory reasons.

Director and co-writer John Erick Dowdle (The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Devil, Quarantine) clearly adored the Indiana Jones (1981-1989) and National Treasure movies (2004, 2007), and he wears this adoration proudly on his sleeve as archeology professor Scarlett (Perdita Weeks; Penny Dreadful, Prowl) is joined by tinkering rogue and fellow adventurer George (Ben Feldman; Friday the 13th), her cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge; The Purge 1-3) and renegade catacomb spelunker Papillon (François Civil) in their pursuit of the Philosopher’s Stone, an artifact sought for its arcane powers of alchemy. They investigate relics in cathedrals, translate dead languages to solve riddles, uncover clues leading to more sleuthing and yet more clues, all just to bring them to the doors of their adventure.

Guided by Papillon’s cave-diving team, they illegally “break in” to parts of the catacombs no longer meant for human navigation, traversing parts long forgotten and unknown. Strange people and superstition abound the catacombs as readily as wayward cultists and lost souls. Very early into their journey things begin to go wrong. Cave-ins trap and redirect them, crevices lead to impossible locations where perhaps impossible things have happened, and secret doors enable their passage through this ancient pyramid-like Labyrinth.  Scarlett’s once-tidy plan unravels and her team is faced with a curio of encounters that feel as if they are spelunking their own subconsciouses, if not their own purgatory, as they wander yet deeper into the catacombs encountering riddle after ancient booby trap after secret corridor and yet new clue. To escape: “the only way out is down.”

The first hour of this movie is all dark but lively adventure and practically no horror. Although the next 30 minutes shift gears strongly. There are some brief brutal scenes, macabre curiosities, and a hallucinatory menagerie of personal demons.

Kind of strange: when I first saw this movie, I was unimpressed and somehow managed to remain completely unenamored by the Ford-Cage adventurer-sleuthing honorarium before me in the horror genre. Yet now, I just… adore that aspect of it! It’s not the best horror film out there, but it strives to be different in its genre while exploring some cool history and concepts. Consider Mark’s movie review, which addresses the abysmal Rotten Tomatoes score. I guess I get it… since upon my first watch, I didn’t get it as much. But I think it’s worthy of a “lower-end fresh” on RT. If for no more than its novelty, I strongly recommend this film. If you read this far and still remain on the fence, check out this podcast discussion (which will include spoilers).

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